Varsity Letter: For Boys and Girls, Lacrosse Is Two Games With One Ball

Georgetown Prep's Pat Cotter, left, smacks St. Albans' Roger Ferguson in breaking up a pass. The boys' game is rougher than the girls'.
Georgetown Prep's Pat Cotter, left, smacks St. Albans' Roger Ferguson in breaking up a pass. The boys' game is rougher than the girls'. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Preston Williams
Thursday, May 28, 2009

Boys' and girls' high school soccer are pretty much the same game. Ditto for boys' and girls' basketball. If you understand one, you understand the other.

Not so for boys' and girls' lacrosse. The games differ greatly, most notably in the amount of contact allowed. The boys issue more checks than Bank of America; with girls, most of the rough stuff is limited to stick-to-stick combat. The field dimensions, team size, game length and protective gear also are not the same.

"It's a whole different game," South River senior boys' defender Sam McKelvey said. "The girls' is more of a finesse game. Guys' is more brutal."

Given the differences between the two versions of the sport, Varsity recently queried some of the top boys' and girls' lacrosse players in the Washington area and asked whether they would like to play the game by the opposite sex's rules.

Georgetown Prep senior goalkeeper John Kemp pointed out one slight problem.

"I don't even know the girls' rules," he said. "I don't think any guys know the rules."

That's how different the games are, and that in itself is a frequent topic of conversation among players of both sexes, with boys boasting that their brawnier brand is superior and girls countering that their game requires more deft stickwork.

"You have to get that perfect pass or that perfect shot," South River senior goalie Kim Kolarik said of the girls' version. "It's not just crank up, hit a guy, crank up, take the shot."

"We always talk about that" with the boys, South River senior Brooke Griffin said. "They say, 'You guys can't hit each other,' and we argue back that we can score more and that it's harder with our sticks to play."

The girls' lacrosse sticks have shallower pockets, so the ball is more difficult to catch, transport and shoot.

"We have to be more skilled with our cradling," St. Stephen's/St. Agnes senior Kelly Austin said. "The girls' game is more graceful."

When it's flowing, yes. But there are also many more penalty stoppages, and that chorus of whistles makes girls' lacrosse maddening to watch for some male players, particularly those unfamiliar with the girls' rules. One boy griped that even a "pity check" halts action.

"To be honest, I don't even think I would want to watch a girls' game," Georgetown Prep's Kemp said. "I just think the guys' game is so much better as far as contact. The shots are obviously faster."

The girls' game "is still fast-paced, but kind of harder to get momentum going, get a sweat going to get into the game," Georgetown Prep senior attackman Brian Casey said. "So I find that a little bit more annoying to watch. If they get checked and it doesn't really hurt and they have a breakaway and the ref blows the whistle. I'm sure that they would rather not have the check called and just be able to run down the field and score. I'm sure they're a little bit frustrated, also."

You bet. And many say they would relish the chance to whack an opponent.

"I think it would be a lot of fun to hit someone," South River's Griffin said. Instead, "you have to keep yourself calm. You have to keep it inside and keep playing."

"I would love it," Bishop Ireton senior midfielder Ashton Hellmuth said. "I think it would be so much fun. I love how aggressive everything is and how crazy it is, and there's not many rules. I think it would be a blast. We talk about it all the time. The boys kind of make fun of us about how 'baby' our sport is and every time we get hit there's a call."

Play with girls' rules? Sign up St. Albans senior midfielder Roger Ferguson, who figures that at 5 feet 9, 170 pounds, he would be better off with less contact.

"It would be harder to catch and pass, and playing defense, it would be a whole new game," Ferguson said. "Their stick skills are unbelievable. With a stick that has no pocket, I thought it would be impossible to see girls catch and pass, but it's such a fluid motion. I think the girls' version is more pure."

As much as they would like to plow into an opponent from time to time, the high school girls also like that their game is not a carbon copy of the boys' game. It is its own sport, with its own rules, quirks and intricacies, and the girls are not as encumbered with equipment.

"I feel like girls' lacrosse is already very physical even though the refs try to keep it at a minimum," St. Stephen's/St. Agnes's Austin said, mentioning the bruises up and down her arm from being hit by opponents' sticks. "I wear the goggles right now. I'm not sure I'd want to play with a huge helmet and a bunch of pads."

"I like the girls' game," Chantilly senior Brittany Griel said. "It's finesse. It's smart. It's really strategic.

"It's like a pretty game, and it's one of the more physical girls' sports there is."

Varsity Letter is a weekly column about high school sports in the Washington area. E-mail Preston Williams at

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